Now, more than ever, mental illness is prevalent but continues to remain a taboo topic. The stigma behind mental illness has been so intense that most are too uncomfortable to even mention it. Regardless of the fear, the problems still remain. The following are the most common spectrums of mental illness, the symptoms, and the most effective approaches used to manage them.
Affective disorders, also known as mood disorders, include Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Cyclothymia, Dysthymia, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). These disorders are all different but one thing they have in common is that each one involves a form of depression. Symptoms of depression include apathy, irritability, lack of energy, anxiety, and oversensitivity, among a range of warning signs. Seasonal Affective Disorder usually only occurs during the winter months.
Bipolar Disorder and Cyclothymia are similar in nature, as they are different versions of the same illness. Cyclothymia is a milder form of Bipolar Disorder, but people with these disorders also experience depression as well as mania, or alternatively, hypomania. The difference between mania and hypomania can be expressed as by how the person experiences the feelings. For example, a person with full-blown mania may become detached from reality and experience psychosis, while a person with hypomania will experience extreme pessimism, decreased need for sleep, and rapid thoughts.
Affective disorders are most frequently controlled with medications. For many people, this form of treatment is lifelong because often once a person goes off the medications, the symptoms return. Other forms of symptom management include:
- Bright light exposure therapy
- Adjustments in diet and exercise like reductions in caffeine intake
- Focusing on healthy methods of coping, like journaling
- Paying attention to how work influences behavior and symptoms
The main difference between personality disorders and mood disorders is that personality disorders are learned, or exposed, behaviors while mood disorders are inherited through genetics. One website notes that a way of distinguishing between the two is to pay attention to whether the behavior is long-standing or only surfaces in cycles. Yet, this does not get to the root cause of the illnesses; it simply compares the symptoms of each disorder while dismissing the cause.
Personality disorders are characterized by “a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving.” The most common forms are Borderline, Narcissistic, Dependent, Antisocial, Schizotypal, Paranoid, Avoidant, and Histrionic. The only thing these disorders have in common is that they are defined as personality disorders. Aside from that, they are very different and symptoms vary, depending on the type of disorder. Personality disorders cannot be cured, but they can be treated. Medication is often used for these illnesses. However, therapy tends to be the most effective method of treatment.
Some of these disorders cause an afflicted person to experience physical symptoms without any real reason as to why. The person’s belief that his physical ailments are caused by an actual illness causes intense emotional distress. Symptoms may be mild or severe, but there is never any explanation as to what is actually causing them.
Somatoform disorders include Hypochondriasis, Conversion Disorder, and Somatization Disorder. Somatization Disorder causes a person to experience physical ailments without a cause, while Hypochondriasis makes a person hypersensitive to any perceived illness he is experiencing. Conversion Disorder impairs a person through physical problems that appear to be neurologically linked.
Treatment of somatoform disorders can often be difficult. Generally, medication is only used if another illness, such as depression, is identified. Psychotherapy, in particular cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is frequently used to help patients with somatoform disorders manage their illness. Stress management techniques are also taught as another a way to assist patients struggling with these disorders.
Disorders in this spectrum occur more than any other mental health issue in the United States. Approximately 18% of the U.S. population experiences some form of anxiety disorder. As with other mental health disorders, there are several categories of anxiety disorders, however, each one is characterized by unusual fear and worry about seemingly innocuous situations.
One anxiety disorder is called Panic Disorder, in which a person experiences sudden panic attacks. Another, which can also cause panic attacks, is known as a Phobia, in which a person has an irrational fear of a person, place, or thing. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a third form of this illness, in which a person is simply nervous about everything, all the time. Social Anxiety Disorder is a more targeted illness, which is focused more on nervousness in situations where a person may have to speak with, or in front of people.
Treatments for anxiety disorder include medications specifically for the anxiety, but also may include medications which treat anxiety mixed with depression. Psychotherapy is also helpful in treating anxiety. Some supplemental treatments include:
- Stress Management Techniques
Prior to the release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, or “DSM-V”, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and other similar disorders were either not categorized at all, or included into anxiety disorders. In 2013, when the DSM-V was released, a new chapter was added. It includes OCD, Hoarding, Trichotillomania, and Excoriation Disorder.
Compulsive disorders are separate from impulsive disorders in the sense that they are performed out of a sense of need for control, rather than a need to stimulate pleasure. All behaviors are performed repetitively and rigidly. OCD is characterized by the need to repeat certain behaviors to feel safe and “clean.” People with hoarding compulsion feel the need to keep everything they possess, even garbage. Trichotillomania is characterized by the pulling out of body hair, often to the point where it is visually noticeable. People with body dysmorphic disorder have a distorted concept of how their bodies appear to others. Excoriation disorder is recognized by the person’s habit of “skin picking.”
Treatments for compulsive disorders often include medication, especially when comorbidity (additional diagnoses) exists. Psychotherapy is also used as a management technique. Family and friend intervention may also prove to be useful in certain scenarios.
As previously noted, impulsive disorders are different from compulsive disorders. Whereas compulsive disorders are defined by a need to do something out of a desire for safety, impulsive behaviors are known to be performed by a drive for pleasure, or satisfaction. Both are compelled to behave in a certain fashion, but the driving force behind them is different. However, over time, a compulsion may turn into an impulse, and vice versa.
Addictions correlate more with impulses than with compulsions. Because people with impulse disorders have the same need for a reward from their behavior as those with addiction, they are categorized accordingly. The American Society of Addiction Medicine describes addiction as being characterized by:
- Inability to consistently abstain,
- Impairment in behavioral control,
- Craving, or increased ‘hunger’ for drugs or rewarding experiences,
- Diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, AND
- A dysfunctional emotional response
Treatments for addiction and impulse disorders are not identical, but some are similar. Both require long-term counselling to prevent relapse, as well as evaluation to determine comorbid illnesses. Both may require medication, depending on the type of dependency or impulse disorder. Finally, addiction requires detoxification before any treatment can begin, while impulse disorders require abstaining from the behavior.
There are many different disorders which fall into this category. To be considered a developmental disorder, the problem must have developed during childhood. Although the issue may not have been identified at that age, it would have surfaced during the earlier years of the person’s life.
Some of the more common developmental disorders include Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADD/ADHD), Autism spectrum disorders including Asperger’s Syndrome, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Tourette’s Syndrome. These disorders have very little in common with one another, other than the fact that they are developed in childhood. Symptoms for each one vary, depending on the type of disorder.
Because they are so different, each one also has different forms of treatment. Most treatments involve counselling, but medication is also an option for certain disorders, like ADD/ADHD. Alternative therapies may also be an option, such as adjusted diet and exercise.
There are three types of dissociative disorders, as defined by the DSM-V. They are: Dissociative Amnesia, Depersonalization Disorder, and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Unlike some of the previously listed categories of disorder, all of these are very similar in their traits.
Symptoms are not exactly alike, yet they share like characteristics. One of the major identifiers is the inability to recall certain aspects of a person’s life. Someone with dissociate amnesia may not recall parts or all of his life for a period of time, while a person with DID may have the belief he is another person and does not remember the time spent acting as someone else. Depersonalization Disorder is more along the lines of feeling apart from one’s own personhood, as though watching it from a distance. Treatments for dissociative disorders include psychotherapy, medications, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD can occur at any age. It is caused by outside events which lead a person to feel unsafe in his environment, such as war or assault. Similar the effects on the body as anxiety, PTSD surfaces when a person feels out of control in his environment. However, there is a true cause and effect here, whereas with anxiety, there is no real explanation behind the symptoms.
One symptom of PTSD is having intrusive memories; this is when a person recalls incidents he does not wish to bring to mind. Avoidance of people, places, or things is another symptom. A form of dissociation may also exist, called derealization. Finally, hypervigilance, or being tense and easily startled, is another symptom seen in patients with this disorder.
There are several treatments available for those suffering with PTSD, but no one treatment is a cure-all for every patient. Medications are often used, as well as psychotherapy. Group therapy is another treatment for those with PTSD. Service dogs have also been used to help severe sufferers with the disorder. Alternative therapies include yoga, swim therapy, acupuncture, and meditation.